It’s Time to Take Responsibility for Our Silence
Ten years ago, at the age of sixteen, I had a conversation with a friend—a 17-year-old boy—that would forever change the way I viewed not only Kevin Spacey, but Hollywood in general. The friend, a British citizen who had met Spacey while working as an extra in one of his films, told me that the Oscar winner had propositioned him for sex, knowing full well that he was underage. My friend handled this incident far more calmly than I ever could have, politely declining by telling Mr. Spacey that he was straight, and going back to his work.
At the time, I was a teenage girl living in Ohio, who knew nothing of the world (and certainly nothing of Hollywood and its hedonism), but I did know one thing: Kevin Spacey was a sexual predator. Over the years, as I became more and more engrossed in pop culture and the cult of celebrity, I would see similar stories to that of my friend’s popping up in comment sections and on message boards all over the internet; young boys, either underaged or just barely legal, would talk about how Spacey had made a pass at them. They might not have labeled it this way, but I knew this was sexual harassment at best, and assault at worst. And yet I said nothing. Even when given a platform, even when there was an audience to hear me, I said nothing.
The internet is a treasure trove of information if you’re looking for insider accounts from Hollywood’s dark underbelly. I was 18 when I first heard the term “Harvey’s Girls”, used to denigrate the young actresses producer and Hollywood star-maker Harvey Weinstein promoted as the hottest new commodities in Tinseltown. These actresses were usually young, beautiful, nominally talented, and often dressed head-to-toe in Marchesa, the fashion label owned by Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman. Reports now say that Chapman, who separated from Weinstein after the sexual misconduct allegations against him were made public, was complicit in the system that first roped in young women for Weinstein to abuse, and then passed them along to Chapman to dress for high-profile events. Of course, if you’d been reading celebrity gossip sites over the past decade, you would have already known about this assembly line of abuse.
This is a particularly important time in history, one that will be remembered as a cull of sexual predators in entertainment, sports, and politics. Once the Weinstein story—perhaps the worst-kept secret in Hollywood—finally broke, so did the dam of silence that kept everyone from costume designers and production assistants to Oscar-winning actresses from speaking out against their abusers. A long, but incomplete and ever-growing list of prominent public figures who have been accused of sexual misconduct stands thus: Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Sheen, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Louis CK, Roy Moore, Brett Ratner, Elie Wiesel, George Takei, Terry Richardson, Jeffrey Tambour, Ed Westwick, Jeremy Piven, James Toback, Mark Halperin, Steven Seagal, Dustin Hoffman, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Dr. Larry Nassar, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, President Bill Clinton, and President Donald Trump.
So many men, so many allegations of groping and rape and sexual intimidation over the course of decades…and we’re still pretending we didn’t know.
As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I can understand the reasons their victims had for staying silent. Each and every one of these men wields too much power for a victim to feel that their accusation will do anything other than destroy their own life. As Ed Westwick’s accuser Kristina Cohen says in her Facebook post detailing her alleged rape at the hands of the Gossip Girl star, you don’t want to be “that girl”. That girl who is called a whore, or a gold digger, or a liar. Because who really wants to believe that Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel gropes women without their consent, or that Dr. Huxtable, everyone’s favorite TV dad, drugged and raped women for decades? To come forward is to put your entire life on the line, and that burden is often too heavy for one woman to bare.
But thanks to a few journalists seeking to amplify these victims’ voices—most notably Ronan Farrow, son of accused child molester Woody Allen—these women no longer have to shoulder that burden alone. There is strength in numbers, and the number has now grown to hundreds of accusers speaking out against their attackers. It has even emboldened some male victims to take legal action, most notably actor Terry Crews, who recently filed a police report alleging he was sexually assaulted by a Hollywood exec. Is this a reckoning? Perhaps, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to making Hollywood, and any other industry dominated by men, a safe place for women to work.
Which brings us back around to the question, “Who knew and did nothing about it?” A-listers like Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Bob Weinstein have been quick to absolve themselves of knowledge of their coworker’s crimes. But I’m here to tell you that that is bullshit. A 16-year-old girl living in an industrial Midwestern town knew. People of all ages living in LA, New York, London, and other metropolitan centers knew. We all knew, and we did nothing. We said nothing. We protected people because we idolized them, or because we were friendly with them, or because we wanted to work with them in the future. Whether it was out of fear, or greed, or helplessness, we all failed these victims.
I don’t know about you, but I will never do nothing again.